Tag Archives: brotherhood

Three Recent Essays: Iran’s Subs, Huma Rights Violations, and the Case for Pessimism on Syria

My July 3 National Interest piece argued that Iran stands to waste a huge pile of money if they attempt to develop nuclear submarines. Iran is clearly using the subs as an excuse to lawfully boost enrichment above the current 19.75% level. They have also suggested that problems fueling their ships abroad may lead them to develop nuclear powered commercial vessels . . . I have not done the math but I am suspecting these would carry enormous opportunity costs that would take years to pay off, if they can be paid off at all. Hints are already coming out that a higher level of enrichment could be in the cards–most recently, a Khamenei aide stated that if international pressure continues, Iran may move up to 56% enrichment. Western negotiators should latch on to this matter. Higher enrichment is not necessary for naval reactors–it’s merely preferable–and Iran does not have good reasons to develop nuclear vessels anyway. While we shouldn’t get too hasty and say this all means Iran really is going for the bomb, it does shred the common Iranian refrain that the purpose of the nuclear program is fully peaceful and aimed only at economic and scientific advancement. The current levels and rates of enrichment make this scarcely plausible (Iran claims it is making the 19.75% enriched uranium for, among other things, fuel for an array of yet-to-be-constructed research reactors). Higher enrichment makes Iran’s multiple goals quite clear.

On July 23, I weighed in for MENASAWorld on the accusations that the Secretary of State’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Huma Abedin, is a secret Muslim Brotherhood infiltrator. Since the strangeness of this claim was already exposed in depth by heftier writers than me, I took a different angle, arguing that with or without legions of Muslim secret agents, the United States would have opened up to the Muslim Brotherhood. Brotherhood secret agents, incidentally, are easily spotted: most will be in regular contact with a cleric about whether taking a cyanide pill during Ramadan would break the fast or whether it is unclean to use a shoe phone.

On July 31 I suggested in the National Interest that Western observers are mistakenly viewing the Syrian civil war as a war of national liberation in which the displacement of the regime will be welcomed by all sectors of society. In fact, I suggest, the fall of Damascus will merely mean that the rebels now have the upper hand in the conflict, and not that it is anywhere close to over. The mutual distaste that has sprung up between sects friendly with Assad and those friendly with the opposition will make reconciliation extremely difficult. If the rebels can drive him from the capital, Assad will retreat behind the mountains of the Syrian coast and hold off further advances by the Free Army.


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Saudi Arabia’s Driving Women and the Threat of Civil Society

Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor of a province in modern Turkey, once witnessed a large fire in the city of Nicomedia (modern Izmit), and wrote to the emperor Trajan requesting permission to form a company of firemen, noting that he would keep it small  and carefully overseen. Trajan, however, was uninterested, replying (as recounted by the historian Edward Luttwak):

We must remember that it is societies like these which have been responsible for the political disturbances in your province. If people assemble for a common purpose, whatever name we give them and for whatever reason, they soon turn into a political gathering. It is a better policy to provide [firefighting] equipment and to instruct property owners to make use of it.

Trajan successfully ruled over many parts of the modern Middle East, including virtually all of the Mediterranean states and much of Iraq. The region’s modern tyrants share their ancient predecessor’s philosophy towards civil society organizations: they are a potential source of trouble, whatever their purpose. Nobody exemplifies this better than the House of Saud, who bar all forms of political organizations and insist that the rare low-level elections they have be conducted in a “nonpartisan” fashion. Civil society–that is, all voluntary, nongovernmental, noneconomic associations of individuals, ranging from sports leagues to activist groups to knitting circles–is woefully underdeveloped in Saudi Arabia, and this is an outcome of deliberate government policy.

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Outburst of Sectarian Violence in Egypt

Within the past twenty-four hours, a shocking string of sectarian incidents has broken out in Cairo, with fighting between Muslims and Coptic Christians killing at least ten and wounding about two hundred. This is an extremely unsettling incident. There has always been an element of tension between the mainstream Egyptian population and the Coptic minority, but the recent uprisings had seen poignant displays of unity. Several months prior to the revolts, a terrorist attack on a church killed 23 Copts, prompting large numbers of Muslims to assemble at churches around Egypt to serve as human shields against terror. During the revolts, the Copts returned the favor, linking arms around groups of praying Muslim demonstrators. Since the uprisings, however, there have been several incidents between the two groups that have threatened to erase the kumbaya spirit of the revolts.

A crowd gathers around a burning church in Cairo. (Al Jazeera/AFP)

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